Lower cholesterol, lose weight and improve blood sugar levels – the one diet that does it all
For several decades, research has consistently found that a vegetarian diet, that is mainly made up of fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes and wholegrains, can reduce your risk of major diseases, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes and help you live longer.
New research summarising findings from several studies takes this further, finding that eating a vegetarian diet for just six months led to improved levels of cholesterol, blood sugar control, and body weight in people with heart disease or at high risk of heart disease.
The study found that eating a vegetarian diet was linked to a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) levels and HbA1c (a long-term indicator of blood glucose control).
People with a higher LDL cholesterol level or who were at a high risk of heart disease were found to have the greatest reductions in LDL, while those with type 2 diabetes experienced larger reductions in HbA1c), following vegetarian diets.
Overall, participants also lost an average of 3.4 kgs over the study period, showing the role that plant based diets can play in maintaining a healthy body weight
The researchers concluded that although more clinical trials in this area are warranted, these findings show that vegetarian diets may be used along with medical prescriptions to help prevent heart disease and treat various risk factors for heart disease.
How exactly does a vegetarian diet help?
The health benefits of well-balanced vegetarian diets are not only due to the absence of meat, but are also due to the fact that they are rich in a wide variety of plant foods, and tend to be higher in fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants due to the higher intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, as well as lower in total fat, saturated fats and cholesterol that may come with a dietary pattern that includes meat.
Not all vegetarian diets are equal
Interestingly, the study also found that what constituted a vegetarian diet varied widely and for this reason is not a magic bullet.
For example, if the majority of veggies you eat have had a visit to the deep fryer and are high in salt this would still mean you could be at higher risk of heart disease and diabetes despite following a vegetarian diet.
Maya Vadiveloo, Associate Professor in Nutrition at the University of Rhode Island Kingston, said that this study provides new evidence supporting the idea that the increase of plant-based foods can positively impact heart disease risk factors.
“However, I say that with the caveat that I don’t believe this suggests all forms of vegetarianism are cardioprotective. Vegetarian diets that are high in diet quality and emphasise fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds [and] heart-health oils to achieve a vegetarian pattern seem to be driving the cardioprotective effects,” Ms Vadiveloo said.
How to start lowering your risk
To help you get started on a vegetarian diet and start lowering your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes or to get some tips on how to make sure your vegetarian diet is doing you good, visit our vegetarian eating hub.